Saturday, April 23, 2011

Schwartz's Smoked Meat: Montreal's Culinary Treat

When asking around for suggestions for our must-do list for Montreal, several of my colleagues gave sage advice, offering vignettes about times spent in Quebec's largest city, especially focusing on Old Montreal (which, because of an aforementioned desire to be at Steve Hogarth's feet each night, we have left in play for next time). One individual, though, who is rarely anything but serious, offered but one emphatic three-word declaration upon my asking: "Schwartz's Smoked Meats."

"Excuse me?"

He repeated,"If you are going to Montreal, you must try Schwartz's Smoked Meats."

Armed with this info I went right to my computer and checked into the details. It turns out that "World Famous Schwartz's Deli" is "The oldest deli in Canada....a true Montreal landmark situated on the historic 'Main.'" I was game and was sure that Steve would be, too. I emailed him the link and we put it on top of our food list.

And for good reason. As I've stated before, "if you see a long line, get on it!" This was usually in reference to zai Zhongguo de fandian, but can be readily applied to Schwartz's. When we arrived, there was a line out the door. Even before we entered, you could smell the fragrant goodness of pickles, rye bread, and truly the most tender, delicious smoked meat we have ever eaten. I would like to describe it as a type of "spiced pastrami" because that is what it reminded me of, but I have no proof to back this up since it is touted simply as "smoked meat." (I even double-checked the website to see if there was a mention of exactly what we were eating).

Doesn't matter. In an atmosphere that felt like a throw-back to the 1950s (and it was real, not feigned!), we sat at a crowded table with French-speaking people who we did not know but who were enjoying the culinary delights as much as we were. Add in a waiter with a personality you would only find in the highest of quality delicatessens and patience of someone who deals with newbies every day, and you have put together one fine lunch.

This place is the real deal. (Thanks, Mr. Stein!)



Friday, April 22, 2011

The View From Mount Royal

While Mark Kelly and the rest of us runners were huffing and puffing our way up and down Mount Royal, the rest of the Balla family was doing it the low key way...Strolling to the top, pausing to take notice, and snapping some photos.

Nice, guys!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Running With Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly is one of the all-time great rock keyboardists. He also ran in the London Marathon the other day.

Given that he was only a week out from the big race when he showed up in Montreal for the Marillion Weekend, Mark put out the call online for interested runners to meet up with him at noon on Saturday at Mount Royal, the geographic feature of Montreal that gave the city its name way back when.

And so there we are, Mark in the bright yellow shirt and a handful of other runners committed to making it to the top of the mountain and back down. Yeah, there was melting snow we had to trudge through at the higher elevations. And yeah, it was a bit hairy winging back down a winding road with cars and bikes coming at us. But we all got some training in and got to take in some nice vistas of the city. All in all, a nice diversion that brought some enjoyable variety to the weekend!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marillion Weekend, Night 1: Holidays In Eden

It has been twenty years since Marillion released "Holidays in Eden," and so the first concert of the Marillion weekend was dedicated to a playing of the album from start to finish.

After joining the queue a bit later than we would the two subsequent nights, we ended up right in front of Rothers, about two or three deep from the stage. Definitely close enough to watch the master at work, not only with his fingers, but also with his feet, as he manipulated his technology to move from one style of playing to another, from one sonic texture to another. The extraordinary Steven Rothery!

The show got under way dramatically with the pulsating opening beats of "Splintering Heart", the first track off of Holidays in Eden. Out of the darkness, H appeared on a riser at center stage and kicked into the vocals, while the remaining band members came out to get ready for that moment when the song fully kicks in in all of its rocking power. "But not as much as this!"

At the conclusion of Splintering Heart, there was an ovation that just would not quit. I mean, it went on and on (in a good way!). The band members have since said that this was a welcome that they had never quite experienced in all of their long years of playing around the world. I don't know if this is literally true, or if it is just a case of the band recognizing a rousing welcome with some hyperbole of their own. Regardless, I can say that it was quite a spectacular start to the weekend!

A nice thing about unusual sets like this (i.e., playing an album in its entirety) is that you get deep tracks that aren't often played live. In the case of Holidays in Eden, it was great songs like "Dry Land" and "Holidays in Eden" itself.

After the main set, the band broke into a few pieces of music from the Holidays in Eden era that didn't make it onto the album, songs like "A Collection" that have become classic b-sides over the past two decades. And then, to close out the night, there were some all time Marillion greats, including "Man of a Thousand Faces" and "The Invisible Man."

Splintering Heart
Cover My Eyes
The Party
No One Can
Holidays in Eden
Dry Land
Waiting to Happen
This Town
The Rakes Progress
100 Nights

A Collection
How Can it Hurt

Man of a Thousand Faces
Memory of Water

The Invisible Man


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Line At L'Olympia

A couple of months back, Julie and Desi picked me up a Montreal guide book, so that I could learn a bit about the city and plot out some fun activities for our long weekend. After all, aside from the the concerts, which were to take place in the evenings, we had the weekend to ourselves. In our minds, there would be plenty of time to stroll through Old Town Montreal and various other top spots around the city.

And then, after checking into our hotel, we strolled down the street to L'Olympia, the venue for the Marillion Weekend. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and the doors weren't scheduled to open until 7 pm.

And there were people on line outside the venue...

Reevaluating quickly, we confirmed as a group that our primary purpose for being in Montreal was to see Marillion. And not just to see Marillion, but to be way up close for the concerts, which were all general admission.

So the somewhat seedy corner where L'Olympia is located became our home for a couple of hours each of the three late afternoons we were in Montreal. Sure, we still had time in the mornings and early afternoons for touring. But we spent way more time on that street corner than we had ever imagined in the year leading up to the trip.

In the end, as Julie and Z can attest, there is nothing quite like leaning up against the stage, right in front of H as he plays his cricket bat (yes, a cricket bat!) during "This Strange Engine." We got it down out there, Ballas!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Snow In The Adirondacks

For about a year now, we have had a planned long weekend trip up to Montreal. Montreal in April, you say? What up with that? Well, the rock band Marillion gave us our excuse to see a French-speaking, European-like city right here in our own backyard when they announced that they would be holding their second-ever North American Marillion Weekend at L'Olympia, a beautiful, historic venue in downtown Montreal. (The first time this happened, two years ago, we were living in Asia, and so a North American Marillion Weekend did us no good.)

As we drove into the weekend, we were excited not just about three Marillion concerts in three nights (seven and a half hours of music!), but also about the chance to have a bit of a road trip together. And so, as we drove up through New York State, it was pretty cool to see snow in the higher elevations of the Adirondacks. ("Do you believe in miracles? Yes!")

Happiness is the road, indeed!